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Every year we have the same debate. How many teams should make the playoff? How many should be selected? What’s the criteria? And every year, nobody has an answer. We think we might, but we don’t. One solution leads to another problem, which leads to another endless debate.
College football is in a unique position when it comes to a postseason. The nature of the sport limits the amount of games played and the sheer volume of teams prevents any standardized scheduling like we see in professional leagues. Other sports get around the scheduling issue by playing more games and having enormous playoff fields. The field of 68 in college basketball virtually guarantees that any team capable of winning it will get their chance. Obviously, we can’t have a playoff field of 68 in football, or anything even close to it.
In life, and especially in sports, people have a tendency to overreact to change. If the playoff were to change tomorrow, we’d see a talking head on ESPN the next morning declaring the sport forever changed. We’d hear callers calling into Finebaum and other radio shows saying how whatever happened was the worst thing to ever happen to college football. You’d have your backers as well, but the complainers always make the most noise.
The most prevalent question surrounding the playoff is this: Should we expand? Most proposals sit around six or eight teams, which I think is the most reasonable. You’ll get your occasional person who wants 12 teams. Even rarer, you might hear 16 or 32 thrown out there every now and then, but if the playoff does expand anytime soon, I think it’s safe to assume it will be to six or eight.
The detractors of expansion usually have two arguments:
- College football’s regular season is the best in sports. Every game matters. The whole season is a playoff. Expanding will just devalue the regular season and the games will lose their luster. Not to mention, other bowl games will matter even less.
- There aren’t eight teams that deserve to go. We watch the fourth team get blown out every year. It’s pointless to send four more teams to get the breaks beat off them as well.
The first argument is one I have a problem with. Yes, college football does have the best regular season in sports and expanding the playoff will lead to some losses not mattering nearly as much. But expansion or not, the quality of the product will remain the same. You really think Ohio State would care less about the Michigan game? That LSU fans wouldn’t show up on a Saturday night to get loud when Alabama comes to town? Or that Florida and Georgia would hate each other any less? It’s that stuff that makes the sport great. It’s the passion, the rivalries, and the pageantry. None of that is going away whether the playoff is two teams or 200.
There’d even be some games where the stakes are raised dramatically. There’s usually not a huge gap between, say, the 7th ranked team, and the 16th, or even 20th. Imagine how fun November would be if there were 20 teams fighting for a playoff berth. Jockeying for seeding at the top would matter too. In an eight team playoff, the first round could be played on home fields. Those top seeds aren’t mailing anything in. They would fight for that right to play on their home field.
Whether it’s four teams or eight, the college football regular season will remain the best in sports. Eight might be twice as much as four, but it would still be the most exclusive postseason in major American sports. The desire to win a championship doesn’t become lesser just because the playoff expands. If anything, a larger playoff makes that an even tougher task to accomplish. It allows more teams and conferences to grow. It allows more players to get a national spotlight. The passion isn’t going anywhere. The things that make this game so great aren’t going anywhere.
I’m not advocating to expand to eight, though I certainly wouldn’t mind it. I am more just saying that it will not be the end of the world. If we stay at four, I don’t mind it either. When we worry so much about the playoff, we make this game all about the end game. Truth is, it is really the means to those ends that make this game so fun.
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